If you’ve ever taken a stroll along the Singapore River, admiring the elegant lines of the Fullerton Hotel, you may find it hard to picture the hustle and bustle of the building’s original role – as Singapore’s General Post Office.
Singapore has boasted postal services since way back in 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles first founded the island. The original small post office was housed in the old Parliament House and mail volumes were modest enough to require just three people to run it.
However, trade flourished and with it the load on the postal services. By 1858, marine and postal services had been separated into two departments. If you wanted to send a letter, you had to make your way to the ‘Post Office’ to hand it in.
Receiving letters was no less arduous. Residents would keenly watch the flagstaff at Government Hill (now Fort Canning) during the day for a flag to be raised – which signified a ship with mail had arrived (a gun would be fired if it arrived at night).
Postal delivery services were carried out via bullock and cart, horse and carriage, or by foot and only received by those lucky residents who lived in town. Posting boxes were soon installed in town, saving letter writers the trek to the Post Office.
Despite being a tiny island, Singapore quickly cemented its reputation as a major entrepôt in South East Asia – with novelist Joseph Conrad, declaring Singapore’s Post Office to be the “most important post office in the East”.
By 1873, a new Post Office had been built on the site of the old Fort Fullerton – which was in turn demolished in 1925 to make room for Singapore’s brand new General Post Office – the Fullerton Building.
In 1949, Singapore’s Postal Department joined forces with the Malayan Postal Union, which imposed standardised rules, regulations and postal rates in both territories.
However, following independence in 1965, Singapore took over its own postal functions and was admitted to the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in 1966.
But did you know…
- The Fullerton’s site was once home to the Singapore Stone – an enormous, inscribed sandstone monolith that stood at the mouth of the Singapore River. The mysterious slab that was thought to date back to at least the 13th Century and possibly earlier, was sadly blown up in 1843, in order to widen the passageway to make space for Fort Fullerton (a fragment was salvaged and can be viewed at the National Museum of Singapore).
- Postage stamps were not used in Singapore until 1854; prior to this, residents held their own ‘Postage Accounts’ at the Post Office, settling any postage due at the end of the month. A register of all letters sent was kept, along with details of the sailing ships on which they were transported.
- The Fullerton Building was named after Robert Fullerton, first Governor of the Straits settlement. The Shanghai-based architectural firm Keys and Dowdeswell designed the building in addition to the Singapore General Hospital and Capitol Theatre.
- The Fullerton building once boasted its own working lighthouse, The Fullerton Light, fitted in 1958, when the Fort Canning lighthouse was demolished. This has since been removed and can now be viewed at HarbourFront Tower.
- Joseph Conrad spent 16 years as a seaman in the Far East, and often docked at Singapore. His novel, “Lord Jim” is said to have been inspired by a real-life event concerning a ship named the Jeddah, which began taking on water soon after leaving Singapore and was subsequently abandoned by its British crew.
Times are of course changing, and the rapid rise in electronic communications has certainly meant a reduction in the number of letters we write. SingPost (SGX: S08) has started to reduce its reliance on its traditional postal services, and embraced the growth of e-commerce, linking up with giants such as China’s Alibaba Group.
As for the Singapore Post – well, today it is based at the purpose-built Singapore Post Centre located on Eunos Road, that boasts state-of-the-art mail sorting technology – with the elegant Fullerton Building having, of course, been converted into a stylish, six star hotel.
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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore contributor Alison Hunt doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.